Friday, August 06, 2010

Ambling by Observation Hill

Back in May I posted a bit about an article I did for the Artist and Illustrators magazine. I promised to post an more in depth article here on how I created depth in the painting. My apologies that it has taken me so long to post it... I hope it's a case of better late than never.

I have split it into two parts.... as it really is quite long. This post is about the inspiration for the painting and the start.

"Ambling by Observation Hill"

The Inspiration

This was a commissioned piece of work, with the specific request that it will help fund a trip for me to go to an elephant conservation project in Botswana with the aim of raising funds for their research by having a future exhibition of my paintings of the area and animals in it. Elephants were requested, which I was very happy with, as this seemed the natural subject choice.

For this painting I wanted a calm, relaxing scene of elephants just going about their daily lives with a bit of interest in the landscape, but not too much as I wanted the focus on the animals. I recalled a visit to Amboseli National Park in Kenya some years ago where the landscape was mostly flat with a few hills and of course the magnificent sight of Kilimanjaro across the border in Tanzania. I loved the colours in the pale soils and drying grasses, the varying light of the sun on the landscape at different times of day and the contrasting richness of vegetation and greens of the marsh areas.

We saw many herds of elephants and had some wonderful sightings, mostly just going about their daily lives unperturbed by the “canned” humans in their smelly, noisy metallic cages. When the engines were switched off and everyone fell quiet… the sounds of the landscape filled the senses. As I write this I find I am closing my eyes and reliving that wonder. A truly wonderful place... and that was the feeling I wanted to convey in the painting.

The Start

I watched my video recordings and looked through my many slides and photographs from that trip looking for ideas of landscapes, references for the elephants and remembering the feel of the place - colours, sounds, smells, temperature of breeze etc. I chose not to do Kilimanjaro in the background - wanting instead something more personal to me and also to the client, whose daughter (now a very good friend) had been on that very same trip. Observation Hill fitted in perfectly with my “vision”
for the painting compositionally and personally – our little group had a picnic breakfast on the top of it one morning, looking down watching animals move by… including elephants. So I hope that when my friend's father looks at it, he sees not just a hill in the background but a place where his daughter has stood and enjoyed a great view.

I spent sometime drawing up the elephants to try to get proportions and the animal anatomy to my satisfaction. And then transferred these to separate bits of tracing paper to play with the composition of the grouping, abandoning several proposed elephants from the group, until I found something that seemed right and would “flow” across the canvas. Then I played with the landscape moving the position of the hill around, up and down, left and right, bigger and smaller until it fitted my ellie group and ca
nvas shape. Once happy I made a final outline drawing on more tracing paper and then transferred it to the canvas.

After drawing in the elephants in more detail on the canvas I applied a thin wash of purple acrylic over the surface. By coating the canvas with a thin wash of acrylic I not only fix the pencil to stop it lifting and mixing into the paler colours as I start painting but it also takes away the dreaded expanse of whiteness that can be intimidating to start painting over. My colour choice of the wash depends the final painting, I tr
y to use a colour that “grounds” the final piece – for this one it was pale purple but for another painting I might choose, sepia, burnt sienna or an orche colour wash.

What I used

Canvas - 24”x12” stretched cotton medium grain

Paints - Oils: Windsor & Newton - Titanium White, Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Yellow Hue.
Van Dyck Ferrario – Gamboge.
Acrylic: Windsor & Newton – Windsor Violet, Burnt Umber, Crimson.
Brushes –Sizes 1 and 4 round watercolour, Size 0 Rigger, ¾” Filbert, ¾” Mop
Artists White Spirit
For this piece I used oils ‘straight from the tube’,
without any other medium such as linseed oil or Liquin (I never use the former) and apply it in a thin opaque layer. My oil brushes are a mix of watercolour and acrylic, both old and new.

My Palette of colours!

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